Nothing More, Nothing Less

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life”
– Psalm 23:6a

What do you want God to do for you? Or give you? The biblical David, who grew up tending sheep, understood the role of the shepherd – it was to provide for and protect the sheep. Reflecting on his life, he wrote Psalm 23 in which he expresses trust in God, the Shepherd who’s been with him through life’s journey and has done all the things a good shepherd should do. In fact, if all he had was the Shepherd himself, that would be enough. This Shepherd would give him what he needs and what he wants him to have – nothing more, nothing less.

Do we have enough trust in God to say, as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.“? That whatever he provides is enough? That just being with this Shepherd is enough?

Listen to God’s whisper:

Am I enough even if I don’t answer your prayers?

If I don’t heal your child?

If I allow you to be sick or in pain?

If your bank account dwindles?

If you lose your job?

I am your Shepherd, your Father, your God. Am I enough?

If we trust in his goodness, his power, and his love for us, he will be enough. We can go through any difficulty, face any threat, go without any material thing, suffer any pain, or experience any loss. Knowing the Shepherd is with us, we realize he will give us everything we need – nothing more, nothing less. And it will be enough.

“You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours.

Do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

And that is enough for me.”

from Pray-As-You-Go devotional

Do you want God’s favor?

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us . . .– Psalm 90:17a

Do you know that you’re one of God’s favorite kids? It’s true! He loves each of us as if we were the only person in the world.

I think I hear some of you asking, “If God loves me so much, why is my life so hard?” It’s a fair question.

First, know we cannot earn God’s favor, and there is no mantra or magic that will manipulate God into blessing us. But there are some specific things he requires of those who want to experience “favored child” status.

It has to do with the way we live.

“. . . the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b). There are many statements in the Bible that tell us God blesses those who are righteous. They love him, love other people, live wisely, and try to do his will. When we live God’s way, his presence and provision will bless us – even when (maybe especially when) there are problems we face.

It has to do with the way we think.

“. . . to the humble he gives favor” -(Proverbs 3:34b). It takes humility to admit we can’t do anything on our own – that we depend on God for everything – including his favor. Those who are most humble are most blessed.

We can’t coerce God into blessing us. But right living and right thinking will position us to look for it. To ask for it. And to receive it with thanksgiving. We stand in desperate need of God’s favor. Let’s live his way in readiness to receive.

 “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning

Only What’s Important

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” – Ephesians 4:29b (NLT)

I have a friend who mentors, teaches, and engages easily in spiritual conversation. After one of those discussions, she followed up with this text which she later shared with me “….I treasure most the conversation we had. I love talking about what’s going on inside of us as we search for meaning for our lives–using the gifts, talents and resources we have been blessed with to help and love on others. I’m at the stage in life where I want to talk only about things that are important.”

I read that and thought of all the lesser conversations I have each day. Then I began to think about what kinds of communication I would describe as important. Here what I came up with:

Relationships: Our conversations should build each other up, encourage, and empathize. This is the kind of talking and listening that shows love and wisdom and draws people together in friendship and community.

Ideas: Let’s skip right over talking about people, things, and events and get to ideas. Great ideas can challenge lazy thinking, steer our futures, and make us better humans.

The eternal: There is perhaps nothing that matters more than talking about knowing God, understanding the Bible, planning our lives for 100 years from now, and walking in harmony with others on our spiritual journey.

Are we stuck talking about the mundane instead of building relationships, entertaining new or old ideas, and connecting with the eternal life of the unseen spiritual world? It may be time to get “unstuck” and start engaging in more of the conversations that matter!

“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.” – Edward Bulswer-Lytton

Jumbled thoughts?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

A few years ago, I took our grandson to a petting farm where he could see and touch all kinds of animals. We stopped at the enclosure where baby chickens were chirping excitedly and running around the pen – into and over each other. My grandson said, “I wish they would stand still so I count them.” Even though they were really cute, the chaos was unsettling. But there was no way to control them!

Later I heard God whisper that my thoughts were a lot like those chaotic chicks – noisily bouncing here and there, out of control, without direction, without peace. And, they were. I acknowledged that to be true and then realized he was reminding me that I should put my mind on him alone. I should calmly and confidently look to him and then my thoughts would follow – in a nice, quiet, straight line – just they way I like them.

I understood the problem better when I read this from Paul: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunningyour thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

There is a tempter who wants to create chaos in my thoughts by leading me away from pure devotion to Christ. God, on the other hand, directs me to stay focused on Jesus, promising that peace will follow. We know which of those two we want to listen to, don’t we? As we begin to know Jesus, we realize that he knows the path we need to take. Following him is the only way to peaceful thoughts!

“That which claims the most thorough part of our hearts, minds, and time both reflects and shapes our lives.” – Jill Carinini

Perspective

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13

I’m reading a book that talks a lot about perspective: How we think we remember things correctly, when often we don’t. How we think we are paying attention when we’re not. How we see ourselves as better, smarter, more careful, more skillful, kinder, more moral than others. I think the author was describing you, but not me, right?

Let’s face it: We all have a way of rationalizing our point of view and marginalizing the opinions of others. Maybe we would be wise, in this world of extremes, to understand that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly. Or, if we are honest, sometimes we’re strongly opinionated about something that doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get me wrong: We should never compromise on clear biblical teaching on any subject. We should never compromise our morality or character as described in the Bible and as generally considered “orthodox” (right teaching) by the church through the centuries.

But, on things that are not so clear, we may need to take a step back and try to see the perspective of the other side. Paul gives first century examples of eating meat, celebration of feast days, etc. that were causing contention then. Today it might be something far more political in overtone. But let’s realize that it’s not dangerous to try to see another viewpoint. We don’t have to change our minds. But trying to understand what others are thinking and honestly evaluating what is worth fighting for are important steps toward living a life of love.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

Twinning

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. ” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Twinning. It’s a concept born in the mind of Mother Teresa, the famous little Albanian nun who gave her life to helping people with the severest of needs. Over time, several thousand nuns were called by God to work with her. One of her most often repeated sayings was that they could do nothing without prayer.

So, when a friend of hers wanted to join the work, but was sidelined by physical limitations, Mother Teresa asked her to found an organization made up of others like herself who couldn’t go, but could pray. They called it The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers. Each person from Sick and Suffering was assigned to one of Mother Teresa’s missionaries, and the two became “twins”. When one suffered, the other did, too. When one was on the front lines for God, the other was, too – through their prayer connection.

They prayed for one another daily. They wrote to each other at least twice a year. One twin was homebound and had the time and heart to pray. The other was busily working humbly and daily with the needy and dying, relying on the prayers of her twin.

Do you have a “twin”? A person who prays for you every day? Who suffers when you do and celebrates when you do? Who connects now and then by text, phone, or email? Who will take your call no matter what? I do. For several years now, God has used each of us to do through prayer what neither of us could do without it. Maybe we all need a spiritual twin!

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

What do you really want?

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45

A business man once told me that people make decisions based on emotions, not reasoning. If they want something badly enough, they will find a way to justify the decision and will think they are acting rationally. So I began to watch in the business world as people made choices that seemed to be because the numbers added up, but as I listened to what they said, it often became obvious that the decision was made mostly because they wanted to. Some even acknowledged that to be the case.

If we understand that our wants are going to steer our decision making, we realize we can’t reason our way into being better people. Emotions are stronger than logic almost every time. So what do we do if we know we need to change our behavior? We acknowledge that, since we will do what we want, what we want must change. And, as spiritual mentors have long taught, we change what we want by consistently practicing some simple, do-able things.

Liturgical readings and prayers, Scripture passages, creeds, or hymns sincerely repeated become powerful forces to mold our desires. Consistent, repetitive acts of worship, even using someone else’s words, invite God to reach into our hearts and tune them to loving the best things. Add Bible reading, prayer, and communion with other believers, and we find that, over time, these holy habits change us. God’s desires become our desires. We will do what we want to do and it will be good!

“A mistaken thought may be corrected easily, but an errant affection is nearly unmanageable.” – Watchman Nee

Loving the Lamb

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, the crowds saw him as the one they believed would be their conquering king. So they excitedly waved palm branches and offered praise.

Jesus knew differently, though, He was entering Jerusalem, not as a conqueror, but as a sacrificial lamb. In fact, this was the day, four days before Passover, that all observant Jews would select the lamb they would sacrifice in the temple for the sins of their family. Until Passover, the lamb would live in their home. You can imagine emotional connections that would occur as the family cared for the little lamb, knowing he would soon die for them.

This year was different, though. Jesus himself was the Lamb, already selected by the Father in heaven, to be the one to die for the sins of the world. From Palm Sunday through Thursday this Lamb spent time in Jerusalem. He taught, cleansed the temple, confronted the religious leaders, and served and loved his disciples. For those days the people in Jerusalem had the final sacrificial Lamb living among them, and they didn’t know it. A few, though, shared an amazing Passover supper with him as he explained that the very meal they were eating was symbolic of his broken body and his blood which would be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Once. For all. Forever.

In these few days before Easter Sunday, let’s be aware of the Lamb in our midst. Talk to him, show him we love him, thank him for dying and living again so we, too, can truly live.

We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” – Pope John Paul II

Sorry!

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

I learned a lot playing Sorry! with my daughter, 11-year-old grandson, and 13-year-old granddaughter recently. Have you ever played the game? You draw a card, do what it says, and try to get all four of your pieces from Start to Home before the other players do. Because of the Sorry! function, you can knock another player’s piece back to Start, so the lead in the game changes many times before it’s over. Here’s what I learned in playing this game:

Play to win. You have to be willing to make the choice that will best help you reach your goal. That works in life, too. We can get sidetracked with the peripheral things and lose our perspective. Stay focused!

Study the board before you decide your move. We want to make good decisions. Thinking about options is part of that process. If we don’t look at the ramifications of our choices, we could make ourselves vulnerable to attack and defeat.

There are setbacks for every player. The nature of the game means there are times when we get knocked back to start. It’s OK. We can pout or get mad or we can shrug our shoulders and cheerfully start over again. It’s our attitude that counts.

The people around the table are more important than the moves on the board. We laughed, we asked for mercy, we tried again, and we rooted for each other. In the end, all the pieces went back in the box, both winners and losers went on with life, and the fun was the part we remember the most.

“The workshop of character is everyday life. The uneventful or commonplace hour is where the battle is won or lost.” – Anonymous

Be good news!

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

I recently was reading a book by Richard Foster and came across this statement, “We cannot preach the good news and be the bad news.” I had to think about that. Have I ever been a “bad news” Christian? Judgmental, critical, dissatisfied, unaccepting, arrogant, stingy, or uncompassionate? Yeah. Probably. Sometimes.

I think you will agree there’s a lot of bad news in the world today. It’s easy to find it and to react to it. But, if we have a relationship with the eternal God and his Son who is the redeemer and ruler of this world, that bad news should not make us into bad news Christians. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be able to rise above the rhetoric of the day and be the most gentle, wise, loving, stable, compassionate, honest, confident, humble, and generous people on the planet.

Jesus commissioned his followers to share the news of his life, death, and resurrection and of his promise of new and eternal life to all who would believe and follow him. We are told to go into all the world to share this message and to invite people everywhere into relationship with the God of creation. That’s the best news anyone could hear. Few will listen, though, if we’re reflecting more of the bad news in our world than the good news Jesus told us to share.

We all want the same things, don’t we? To be loved, listened to, understood, and accepted. And that’s what Jesus did for the people around him. Maybe to share the good news, we first have to be the good news, just as he was.

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky